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January 18, 2018 4:19 pm

Senate Committee Advances Nomination of Kenneth Marcus to Top Civil Rights Post in Education Department

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Kenneth Marcus speaking before the Senate HELP Committee on Dec. 5, 2017. Photo: Screenshot.

A key Senate committee advanced the nomination of Kenneth Marcus to a top civil rights post in the Department of Education on Thursday, clearing him for a final confirmation round.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee endorsed Marcus — a leading proponent of efforts to counter campus antisemitism — with a 12-11 vote to serve as assistant secretary at the Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

Marcus was supported by all 12 Republicans on the committee, led by chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and opposed by its eleven Democrats, including ranking member Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). His nomination now faces a full Senate vote.

The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law — founded by Marcus to combat anti-Jewish and anti-Israel discrimination in higher education — applauded his approval, calling him “a dedicated and highly experienced expert on civil rights.”

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Rachel Lerman, the Brandeis Center’s vice president of the board and a self-identified Democrat, told The Algemeiner that she was “deeply disappointed by the party split, which indicates that politics prevailed over merit in this case.”

She expressed hope “that the Senate will rise above politics when it votes on his nomination,” and rather “consider Ken’s record and the voices of people who actually know him and have worked with him.”

Marcus, who formerly served at the US Commission on Civil Rights and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, previously led the OCR under President George W. Bush from 2003-2004.

Under his guidance, the OCR — which does not have jurisdiction over cases of religious discrimination — clarified that protections afforded under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 nonetheless extend to members of groups that “exhibit both ethnic and religious characteristics, such as Arab Muslims, Jewish Americans and Sikhs.”

His nomination has not been without controversy, with some backers of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel — which Marcus has previously associated with a rise in anti-Jewish hostility on campus — urging their supporters to petition senators to oppose Marcus’ confirmation.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (LCCHR), a coalition of over 200 national groups, also described Marcus as “unsuited” to lead the OCR in a letter sent to HELP committee members last week.

Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of LCCHR, called on the Senate on Thursday to reject Marcus, accusing him of adopting “anti-civil rights positions” and failing “to articulate clear support for robust civil rights enforcement during his confirmation hearing.”

“Students and families deserve an Assistant Secretary who will represent their interests, enforce the law, and stand up to the Trump-DeVos discriminatory agenda,” Gupta said.

These concerns were rejected last week by the American Jewish Committee — a founding member of the LCCHR — and, separately, in a joint statement by 60 Jewish, Christian, and advocacy groups.

During his public service career, “Ken championed the civil rights of all Americans in a wide range of areas, including strengthening Title IX enforcement, fighting against racial segregation, increasing fair housing rights for the disabled, and ensuring that Jewish, Sikh and Muslim students were protected under Title VI,” the joint statement read.

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, head of the campus antisemitism watchdog group AMCHA Initiative, told The Algemeiner on Thursday that Marcus’ “vast and exceptional work against racial, gender, and religious discrimination and discrimination affecting the disabled community” was a testament to his civil rights credentials.

“Ken brings a unique understanding of how civil liberties protections and free speech rights can work together under the law,” Rossman-Benjamin said. “He believes both are paramount responsibilities of our government and of a public university, and he understands how schools can and must do both.”

David Krone, who served as chief of staff to former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, told The Algemeiner last year that Marcus was “an outstanding individual who I believe will work with both Republicans and Democrats on their common goal to stand up to hatred, which sadly seems to have spread throughout America.”

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